Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Interview: Paul Newman biographer Shawn Levy

posted by Nell Minow

Movie critic Shawn Levy, author of the superb books King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis and Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party, has a new book about one of the most accomplished and adored movie stars of all time, Paul Newman. He very kindly made time for an interview in the midst of his book tour.

Q: Newman was one of those rare performers who become icons of their eras. What was it about his style of acting and choices of scripts that seemed so particularly characteristic of the post-WWII years?

A: He often played younger than he really was, like many actors, but it was particularly his casting as the failed sons of strong fathers in such films as “The Rack,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hud” and, in a sense, “The Long Hot Summer” and “The Hustler” that cemented him as an icon. He carried the sensitivity of James Dean into a new era when the promise of a film like “Rebel Without a Cause” bled into mainstream and prestige films. He easily segued into rebel/countercultural figures starting in the mid-’60s (“Harper,” “Hombre,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy”). And because he was older than the characters he was playing (he was 38 when he made “Hud”), he also carried a savor of mature authority. He played, in short, equally well to both the establishment and the kids who threw mudballs at it.

Q: Is there a performance of Newman’s that you think is particularly overlooked or underrated?

A: His turn as the stage manager in the Broadway production of “Our Town,” which is available on DVD, is a classic bit of Americana. In movies, “Hombre” is tough and sullen and cool in a way you’d associate more with, oh, Steve McQueen than Newman. Both excellent films.

Q: What did he consider his biggest failing?

A: In acting, he felt he was too mechanical and calculating for the first 25 years or so of his career, and I think I’d agree. You see him pulling poses and striking moods quite deliberately even in such fine films as “The Hustler” and “Hud.” But later in life he ratcheted back and produced some astonishing performances. In life, I think he felt he was a very remote and arbitrary father until he reevaluated himself after the death of his son, Scott, in 1978.



  • Alicia

    Excellent interview questions and answers, Nell. If anyone fit the definition of a modern Renaissance Man, it was Paul Newman – father and husband, actor, director, race car driver, political activist, chef, philanthropist. I guess today we would simply call him a “Man in full.”

Previous Posts

A New Alphabet Book for Women's History Month: Rad American Women A-Z
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! is a wonderful new alphabet book to teach girls, boys, and their families abou

posted 3:37:56pm Mar. 01, 2015 | read full post »

Opening this Month: March 2015
Happy March! Looking forward to warmer days and better movies. Some of what we're looking forward to this month: March 6 "Chappie," from "District 9's" Neill Blomkamp, is the story of a robot whose artificial intelligence may just rise to the level of a personality, even a soul, with Hugh Ja

posted 3:35:27pm Mar. 01, 2015 | read full post »

A Purim Take on Uptown Funk -- Shushan Funk
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KsJKSew4BvY?rel=0" frameborder="0"] Happy Purim! May this be a year when all the Hamens of the world are vanquished. This tale, was once told In the days of Achashverosh This one needs a new girl Needs a good girl A strai

posted 12:36:54pm Mar. 01, 2015 | read full post »

Tribute: Leonard Nimoy
We mourn the loss of Leonard Nimoy, who created one of the most iconic characters of all time, "Star Trek's" half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock, with pointed ears and angled eyebrows perfectly designed to convey a wry sense of irony.  The storylines of the original "Star Trek" were provocative polit

posted 12:00:09pm Feb. 28, 2015 | read full post »

New from Daniele Watts: Muted
Actress Daniele Watts stars as missing teenager Crystal Gladwell in Muted, winner of the 18th annual American Black Film Festival short film competition, showing on HBO throughout March 2015. Muted fol

posted 8:00:46am Feb. 28, 2015 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.